If you're a client going through ten chemistry meetings, you're bound to receive eleven different versions of 'we seek to understand what makes people tick'. If you meet any planner, they'll hopefully remember that amidst the billion things the job seems to require these days, their primary role isn't to be shrill for the work, it's to build strategy to influence what real people do in real lives...in short, suits make the work happen, creatives make the work good, planners make the work, ahem, work.
(picture from We Are What We Do)
Yet how many agencies and their planners REALLY understand people. I don't mean unreliable findings from the biggest mouth in a focus group, or a bit of profiling on TGI (TGI's good by the way, it's actually a qual tool, not quant, enabling you to get a feel for the people you need to engage with and know there's enough of them - but it only gets to generalisations, you need to dig a lot deeper than that), I mean knowing what really influences and motivates them.
I think half of that is going out and meeting them - part anthropologist - in their own environment. People are useless at describing what they did and why, or even how they felt. The only reliable way is to be there as it happens. That's why even co-creation in an artificial environment is bollocks, people won't act on genuine instinct, they'll be developing stuff based on their own generalisations of other people, and what they THINK the brand wants, not what they REALLY want...they don't really know what they want.
The other half of that is amateur psychology. Bill Bernbach said 'there's nothing so powerful as an insight into human nature' and that still holds true. There are universal truths about how people behave and what motivates them. They more you understand about this, the better. I don't mean playing back these truths to people, that's useless. I do means understanding what role you can play, what problem you can solve in people's lives.
There's a lot to be said for this tool, I think MC Saatchi still use a variation on this.
I can't abide all that 'brutal simplicity of thought' stuff, but finding a connection between a truth about people (not 'consumers') and what the brand is about, or what it can deliver can be really powerful. This work is all based on the connection between the truth that we all respect people who can do what we cannot and the fact that most people are not cut out to be a police officer:
As other people have said, it's really powerful to relieve a genuine tension in culture, in what goes on people's lives.
Johnie Walker relieves the contradiction between the masculine need for success and a growing distaste for conspicuous consumptions by re framing male success as personal progress, rather than having arrived ( and that in Asia that requires referencing brotherhood and belonging, rather than 'me'.
Pepsi knows that every generation feels like they want to change the world, but that they have a chance to change things, they just get to protest a lot and then grow up.